Chapter OneRomans 1:1-7
* * *
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle
and set apart for the gospel of God-2 the gospel he
promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy
Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was
a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness
was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection
from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him
and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to
call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that
comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are
called to belong to Jesus Christ.
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the
Lord Jesus Christ.
Ancient letters typically began with a simple
identification of the sender, the recipients, and a
greeting. New Testament letters follow this pattern,
but often elaborate by adding distinctly
Christian nuances. No New Testament letter shows as much elaboration as
Romans. Perhaps because he is writing to a church he has never visited
before, Paul spends six verses identifying himself before he mentions the
recipients (v. 7a) and extends them a greeting (v. 7b).
Paul introduces himself to the Roman Christians by identifying his master,
his office, and his purpose. (1) He is a "servant of Christ Jesus." While clearly
revealing Paul's sense of subservience to his Lord (the word "servant" [doulos]
can also be translated "slave"), this title also suggests his status. For the Old
Testament "servant of the Lord" was applied especially to outstanding figures
in Israel's history, such as Moses (e.g., Josh. 14:7) and David (e.g., Ps. 18:1).
(2) Paul also points in verse 1 to his office and to its authority: He is
"called to be an apostle," one of those whom Jesus himself had appointed to
represent him and to provide the foundation for his church (see Eph. 2:20).
(3) The most important point Paul wants to make in this opening verse
has to do with his purpose: "set apart for the gospel of God." God may have
set apart Paul for the gospel ministry as early as the womb-just as he had
done for the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5). But the "setting apart" probably
refers to the time when God called him on the Damascus Road to come into
relationship with Christ and to proclaim him to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts
9:1-19, esp. vv. 15-16; note the use of this same verb in 13:2). The "gospel"
is the central, unifying motif of Romans, and Paul signals its importance by
referring to it three other times in the introduction to the letter (vv. 9, 15,
16). God has appointed Paul to the special task of proclaiming and explaining
the good news of God's intervention in Jesus Christ.
Paul and the Gospel (1:2-4)
Paul now elaborates his brief introduction, describing the "gospel" in verses
2-4 and his apostolic calling in verses 5-6. The first point Paul makes about
the gospel (v. 2) reflects another key theme of Romans. Throughout the letter
he is at pains to demonstrate that the good news about Jesus Christ is
rooted firmly in the soil of the Old Testament. The "prophets" to which he
refers are not just the famous writing prophets, whose books are now found
in the Old Testament, but Old Testament authors generally. As Luther put
it, in Paul's perspective, "Scripture is completely prophetical." Verses 3-4
describe the content of the gospel: Jesus Christ himself. In two parallel statements,
Paul succinctly summarizes the mission of Christ:
Regarding his Son, verse 3 verse 4
who as to his human nature who through the Spirit of holiness
was a descendant of David was declared with power to be the
Son of God
by his resurrection from the dead:
Jesus Christ, our Lord
The current NIV translation suggests that Paul is contrasting the two
"natures" of Christ. He is both fully human, a descendant of David, and fully
divine, shown by his resurrection to be the Son of God. But this is probably
incorrect. The verb translated "declared" in verse 4 (from horizo) is better
translated "appointed." Thus, this verse does not mean that the resurrection
made clear what Jesus already was; rather, it qualified him to attain an entirely
new status. However, this does not mean that Jesus became Son of God at the
time of his resurrection; he always was God's Son. But he did become "Son-of-God-in-power."
In his earthly life, Jesus was truly the Messiah, descendant
of David, and Paul does not minimize the importance of this status.
But Jesus' resurrection, concluding and validating the messianic work of
redemption, gave him new power to dispense salvation to all those who
would believe in him (see esp. v. 16).
To put it another way, verses 3-4 do not depict two natures of Christ, but
two stages in his existence. This is confirmed by one more key contrast in
the verses. The word translated in the NIV "human nature" is sarx (lit., flesh).
"Spirit of holiness" is properly capitalized in the NIV (though see NIV note)
to indicate a reference to the Holy Spirit. The flesh/Spirit contrast in Paul is
fundamental to his theology and will appear constantly in Romans. What is
key to this text is that the contrast is usually a salvation-historical one in
Paul. "Flesh" represents the old era that is passing away; "Spirit" denotes the
new era inaugurated by Christ's work of redemption and marked by a new,
powerful work of God's Spirit.
The relatively few specific references to Christology in the body of
Romans do not mean that the person of Christ is not important for the
gospel. Verses 3-4, easily overlooked in the prescript of the letter, introduce
Christ as the content of the gospel. By quoting a tradition about Jesus
that was probably already circulating in the early church (see Bridging Contexts
section), Paul both lays the foundation for the gospel he will elaborate
in the letter and establishes common ground with the Roman Christians.
Paul's Apostolic Ministry (1:5-6)
In verses 5-6, Paul elaborates briefly on his apostolic status. He has received
this "grace of being an apostle" (taking "grace" and "apostleship" closely
together) for two purposes. (1) One task is to "call people from among all the
Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith." From the time of his conversion
(see Acts 9:15), the Lord made clear that Paul's primary mission was
to bring Gentiles to faith in Jesus. But rather than referring simply to "faith,"
Paul uses an expanded phrase, which literally translates "the obedience of
faith." The NIV, following many commentators, takes "faith" (pistis) as the basis
for the obedience: commitment to Christ in faith leads to obedience in life.
But pistis can also identify the obedience that Paul has in mind: "the obedience
that is faith." Paul sometimes describes faith in terms of obedience, as when
he speaks of people "obeying" the gospel (Rom. 10:16 NRSV).
Neither of these alternatives does justice to the interplay between faith
and obedience in Paul. The former can imply that faith is the first stage of
Christian experience, to be followed by obedience. But faith is central to all
stages of the Christian life. The latter improperly collapses obedience into
faith, whereas in Paul they are usually distinct ideas. The best alternative,
then, is to use the straightforward, though ambiguous, translation "obedience
of faith," and to interpret the words in the phrase as mutually interpreting:
faith, if genuine, always has obedience as its outcome; obedience, if it is to
please God, must always be accompanied by faith (for more on this, see
Contemporary Significance section).
Paul probably uses this unusual formulation as a deliberate counter to the
Jewish "works of the law." What marks God's people is no longer deeds done
in obedience to the law, but an obedience that stems from, accompanies,
and displays faith. Significantly, Paul ends this letter on the same note, referring
in the doxology again to "the obedience of faith" (16:26; NIV paraphrases
it as "believe and obey"). If one purpose of Paul's apostolic ministry is horizontal,
the second and ultimate purpose is vertical: Paul ministers "for his
name's sake." Bringing glory to God must always be the preeminent purpose
of all ministry.
(2) The Christians in Rome, Paul asserts in verse 6, are included among
those Gentiles. One of Paul's concerns in this long prescript is to establish
his right to address a group of Christians he has never met before. Thus he
makes it clear that the Romans belong to the sphere of ministry God has
assigned him. God gave Paul the task of calling "people from among all the
Gentiles" to the obedience of faith (v. 5). This interpretation rests on an alternative
translation to that found in the NIV. The NIV suggests that "also" should
be linked with the word "called": Like Paul (cf. v. 1), the Christians in Rome
have also been called. But the emphasis of verse 5 makes it more likely that
Paul is claiming that the Romans are "also" among those Gentiles to whom
Paul has been sent to proclaim the message of "the obedience of faith."
The Roman Christians (1:7)
Paul finally gets around to identifying the recipients of the letter. They are
all the Christians in Rome, "loved by God and called to be saints." Both
descriptions reflect Old Testament language about Israel. Paul, as an important
part of his agenda in this letter, is implying that the Roman Christians,
Gentiles though most of them may be, have inherited the privileges and
promises granted to the Old Testament people of God. "Saints" translates a
Greek word (hagioi) that means "holy ones." The Roman Christians, like the
Israelites of old, are "holy" because God has set them apart to be his own people.
The prescript concludes with the typical wish for grace and peace.
"Grace" (charis) comes from a word (chairein) that often appears in Greek letters
as a greeting (cf., e.g., James 1:1). "Peace," by contrast, reflects the Semitic
world, for behind it lies shalom, the Old Testament word for the well-being
of the righteous.
If we are to appreciate Paul's teaching in these
first seven verses-and, indeed, throughout this
letter-we must have a sense of what the language
Paul uses may have meant to the first readers
of this letter. Words always have a context, and only by having some
sense of that context can we truly appreciate their real significance. Two
contexts that we may not be aware of will help us understand more fully
Paul's words in these first seven verses.
Early Christian teaching. Paul reflects early Christian teaching about
Jesus and his significance. This is especially true in verses 3-4, where most
interpreters think Paul is quoting from a hymn or creed about Jesus that circulated
widely among the first Christians. As we noted above, these verses
can be arranged in two "stanzas" with roughly parallel lines. The parallelism
is more striking in Greek than in the English-the kind of parallelism we
might expect in a hymn. Moreover, the verses contain some language, such
as "Spirit of holiness," that Paul uses nowhere else, and some ideas, such as
the Davidic descent of Jesus, that do not feature prominently in his teaching.
When we add to these considerations a natural desire on Paul's part to
establish common ground with the Roman Christians, whom he has never
met, the conclusion he is quoting from another source in these verses seems
To be sure, we must be cautious about this conclusion and any inferences
we draw from it. Some interpreters do not think that we have here a quotation
at all. Paul may have used some traditional words and ideas in formulating
his own semi-poetic Christological statement. Even if we think a
quotation does exist, we should recognize that we do not have enough information
to justify some of the exegetical conclusions scholars have reached.
Some of them, for instance, distinguish between the original form of the
quotation and additions or modifications Paul made to it. Paul's "redaction,"
they suggest, betrays his real purpose in using the quotation and directs our
attention to the parts of the quotation that he agrees with and those he may
want to reject. Instead, we must interpret the words in the context in which
they now appear.
Still, we think it likely that Paul does quote from a hymn or creed, and
the procedure is both rhetorically effective and theologically unobjectionable.
A good communicator will always try to build a bridge to his or her audience
by using words and ideas they are familiar with. Just as the preacher
quotes the stanza of a popular hymn to bring a point home, so Paul may
well want to cite lines from a well-known early Christian hymn to communicate
the truth of Christ to the Roman Christians. But a quotation will often
do far more than merely illustrate a point; it will bring it home to an audience
in the way a simple prose statement cannot. Because this point is so
important in appreciating Romans, we will spend a little time on it.
Let me begin with an example. When my sons were growing up, I regularly
played basketball with them on the driveway in front of our house.
Now that they are grown, I foolishly try to continue the tradition. Not long
ago, I was playing some one-on-one with my third son, 6'6" 240 lb. Lukas,
who plays intercollegiate basketball. I taunted him, "Be careful, Luke, I'm
going to take the ball to the basket on you." His response: "Go ahead, Dad-make
my day." His words, of course, reflect the famous Clint Eastwood line
from the Dirty Harry movies. Luke could simply have said to me, "If you try
that, Dad, I am going to reject your shot." But by using this particular line,
he brought to the driveway a sense of the menace and steely determination
that was intrinsic to the original cinematic context.
In other words, quotations and allusions generally have the power to conjure
up for the reader something of the context from which the words were
taken. Putting our finger on the exact nuance is often difficult, because much
of the significance may be emotional. (I know Luke's words stirred emotions
in me, most of them making me think twice about taking the ball to the basket.)
We must recognize that Paul in Romans frequently seeks, through quotation
and allusion, to draw his readers into his argument in a way that his
own words could never have done.